Sunday 24 June 2012

Police seize Dinosaur from New York warehouse.

Authorities in New York have seized the bones of a 7.3 m Tarbosaurus bataar (a Late Cretaceous Theropod Dinosaur closely related to Tyranosaurus rex), from a storage facility belonging to Cadogan Tate Fine Art in Queens, New York. The skeleton was sold for US$1.05 million on 20 May 2012 by Texas-based Heritage Auctions, to an undisclosed buyer, thought to be a private New York museum, but authorities in Mongolia are demanding their return as stolen antiquities.

The feet of the Tarbosaurus specimen in the Cadogen Tate warehouse. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The fossil was sold by Florida-based Eric Prokopi who imported them from the UK in March 2010, on papers which described them as 'reptile bones' valued at US$1500. Prokopi claims that the bones originate from outside Mongolia, and that he and his wife spent much of the last year carefully preparing and mounting them. However experts, including Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History, have identified them as belonging to a known specimen from Ömnögovi Province in Monglolia, identified in 1946 by a joint Soviet-Mongolian expedition to the Gobi Desert but never excavated. The bones were last seen in the desert in 1995, and were found to be missing in 2005. Norell also pointed out that very few Tarbosaurus specimens have ever been found outside of Mongolia, and that those have all come from China, where restrictions on excavating and exporting Dinosaur remains are even tighter.

The smuggling of antiquities is a major international crime, and while it is more typically associated with archaeological remains, dinosaur (and other large vertebrate) fossils can have a substantial value and are a significant part of this trade. The US is a common destination for smuggled antiquities, and has been accused in the past of not doing enough to protect the heritage of other countries, though on this occasion the Mongolian authorities are said to be very pleased with the promptness of US action. The UK is also often sighted as a country that does not do enough about antiquities smuggling, with many stolen artifacts allegedly being routed through London. It is unclear if the Tarbosaurus remains seized in New York were ever actually in the UK, or what steps (if any) British authorities are taking to investigate this. 

See also LH PV18, a New Mini-Tyranosaur, or an Immature Tarbosaur? and Dinosaurs on Sciency thoughts YouTube.

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